A lot of people -- including creator David Chase -- were a bit underwhelmed by the Sopranos sophomore effort, and not without justification: It's less focused thematically than seasons 1 and 3, and has a tendency to linger on ultimately tangential story lines (as in ''Commendatori,'' a gorgeous but largely meaningless episode shot in Italy; and ''D-Girl,'' which chronicles Christopher's heartbreaking brush with the movie biz). But as weakest links go, these 13 episodes would amount to a golden age for nearly any other series.
It's certainly not wanting for conflict, as Tony endures the return of his chop-busting sister Janice (Aida Turturro), whose reacquaintance with her gangland roots quickly transforms her from Seattle neo-hippie to conniving Mafia wife-to-be; and David Proval's monstrous Richie Aprile (brother of late family boss Jackie), who arrives home from the big house hungry for his piece of the action. As usual, crack character acting abounds, in Alicia Witt's turn as a skin-deep film executive, Peter Bogdanovich's shrink's shrink, and ''The X-Files'' star Robert Patrick's arc as a ''happy wanderer'' with a gambling problem.
Season 2 also furthers a curious ''Sopranos'' tradition in that its penultimate episode (in this case, the brilliant ''A Knight in White Satin Armor'') is the action-packed climax of the season, not the finale. Of course, that's not to short-shrift the phantasmagorical ''Funhouse,'' wherein Tony discovers through his dream life that the recently resurfaced Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore) is serving another master. Let's just say that by year's end they both spend some time talking to the fishes.
As for extras, four of the episodes feature eye-opening director commentaries, the most impressive of which is Allen Coulter's film-school-worthy track for ''White Satin.'' Also included are two documentary featurettes: ''The Real Deal,'' which includes reality-check testimonials from an FBI agent, a psychoanalyst, and Mob novelist Nick Pileggi (''Casino''); and ''A Sit-Down With the Sopranos,'' featuring chats with Chase and his happy celluloid family.